Scientology's Spy Program: Anatomy of a Covert Operation (UPDATED)
For Scientology watchers, one of the reasons this is a particularly exciting time is that we're getting our hands on remarkable church documents, smuggled out through one of Scientology's top former executives.
At Marty Rathbun's blog, formerly secret documents made public in recent days have revealed a Western U.S. "enemies list," as well as an accounting of that region's ordinary (and celebrity) Scientologists willing to do intelligence work. Another leaked e-mail showed how a high-level and wealthy church member trashed the reputation of a well-known Hollywood acting coach because he had fallen behind in his Scientology training.
But for me, the documents that have proved most interesting are the ones that detail OSA's black-ops work against church enemies.
The Office of Special Affairs is Scientology's intelligence and covert operations wing. (And sometimes you just have to stop and let that sink in. Imagine your local Baptist or Presbyterian church having an official Intelligence office. Difficult, isn't it?)
There's a mountain of information online about the disturbing things OSA and its predecessor, The Guardian's Office, have done in the name of Scientology. But it can still be surprising, and instructive, to see how OSA operatives work in a particular case.
I've been talking with Marc Headley lately about his own experiences since leaving Scientology in 2005. We wrote earlier about his thrilling escape narrative, Blown For Good, a book I highly recommend for its vivid account of life at Scientology's secretive headquarters in the California desert.
Recently, Headley received some formerly secret OSA documents from Rathbun which describe how, shortly after he left the church, Headley's friends were used as spies to gather information about him. Headley says he hasn't revealed the contents of the documents at his blog, but he decided to share them with the Voice. And he not only decoded some of their arcane language for us but also explained how he confirmed the information in them and learned more fully how his church had gone after him once he decided to leave.
At "Gold," or "Int," names for the Hemet headquarters, Headley held various jobs in technical fields. He oversaw the fabrication of truckloads of cassette tapes that contained L. Ron Hubbard's lectures, he helped build recording studios, and he was involved in the manufacture of e-meters.
In 2005, when he "blew" -- church jargon for fleeing -- Headley had to make his life all over again. With his technical background, Headley knew he could make a living. At first, however, he knew he'd have to rely on his contacts with other Scientologists to help him get on his feet. As Headley began building his own business, he needed friends.
And that's what OSA targeted, the documents suggest. "They were trying to cut any connections that I had," Headley says.
How did Scientology attempt to do that? By turning every Scientologist Marc knew into a source of information. What follows is an image of the top portion of one document which Marc received from Rathbun and shared with me:
The document refers to "terminals," and I asked Marc about that. "In Scientology, that's what you call a person," he answered.
Then comes a list of names. Each of them were friends, some close, some not, who were known to the Headleys and who could be helpful to them as they rebuilt their lives.
As the document indicates, these people could be encouraged to cut ties with the Headleys by being "confronted with the facts" of their own situations and with an "R-Factor" from "IJC."
I asked Marc for help. What the hell does any of that jargon add up to?
Each of the people listed, Headley responded, had their own problems in Scientology. Some of them had been "declared" and were now untouchable "Suppressive Persons." One of the men, for example, was now being shunned even though the rest of his family was still in Scientology. The only way he and the others could get back in the good graces of the church -- and in some cases, ever see their family members again -- was to make progress in the eyes of the church, progress measured in "A to E steps," Headley explained.
While they were declared SPs, the only person in Scientology they could talk to is known as the International Justice Chief, or IJC. And that person could be persuaded to give these wayward Scientologists a stern talking to -- a "reality factor" or "R-factor" in church parlance.
Are you keeping up? What this amounts to so far is that Scientology's OSA was sizing up Headley's friends to see if they could be scared into spying on and then disconnecting with Marc and Claire or face the prospect of never regaining their good standing with the church.
The document then goes through each person in turn, describing their relationships to the Headleys, their standing in the church, and how each might be used to gather information.
In particular, the OSA operatives were interested in how these friends had already helped the church confirm, once and for all, that it was Headley who had been criticizing Scientology on the Internet using the screen name "BFG," for "Blown for Good." (Headley explains that in Scientology, there's an expectation that someone who blows once will do it again in the future. So he came up with the name Blown for Good to emphasize how thoroughly finished with the church he had become. Later, he used the name as the title of his book and today is widely known by the handle. At the time, in 2005 and 2006, OSA and the church were desperate to know for sure which former member was writing about Scientology under the handle.)
After running through each of the friends to see who could be used and in what ways, there's a surprising entry in the document:
Jeff Hawkins was once the leading advertising expert for Scientology. It was his "volcano" television ads you might remember from the 1980s and which helped the church expand to its greatest extent. Hawkins wrote about his remarkable journey in Scientology in a book we reviewed last year, Counterfeit Dreams.
By October, 2006, Hawkins had been out of Scientology for more than a year. Headley assumes he was listed as a friend on the document because some time before, he had invited Hawkins to a get-together at Outback Steakhouse along with his other friends who turned out to be spies.
I called Hawkins last night to tell him about the entry on the document, which he was unaware of. He sounded a little taken aback. "It sounded like they had good intelligence lines. I'm not sure who they were talking to," he said. All of the information in the entry is accurate, he added. "They were right about that, I did come out and talk to the press," he says. Hawkins was one of the former high-level executives who went public about their witnessing Scientology leader David Miscavige -- "COB," for chairman of the board -- getting violent with underlings, including Hawkins himself. To Scientologists, this kind of bad press is called "entheta," and church members are instructed to ignore it.
(We went on to talk briefly about how things are going for him -- business is good, Hawkins says, and he's not had any recent problems with the church.)
The entry also mentions Chuck Beatty, an ex-Scientologist and Sea Org member who left in 2003 and became a vocal and fierce critic of the church. His Internet postings, in this case about Hawkins, were being watched extremely closely.
Besides talking to Headley and Hawkins to confirm that the document reflected what was happening to them in 2006, we also confirmed with one of the named friends that the description reflected their interaction with OSA during this period. We're not naming that person at their request.
Headley says that he began to be aware of the spy operation against him through another document -- a court deposition in his failed lawsuits against the church. (The Headleys sued Scientology over the way they had been treated as employees during their years at the desert base, including Claire's forced abortions and their low pay, but their two lawsuits were dismissed last year.) When Headley read the deposition of one of his friends, he realized the man had been feeding information about him to church operatives, he says. Another man listed in the OSA document the Headleys had already suspected, he says, because the man was driving down from the Bay Area just to have conversations with them. It struck them as odd.
Once he got documents about the OSA scheme from Rathbun, Headley says he quickly confirmed with two of the named friends that the operation had existed.
"Until I saw the documents, everybody thought I was paranoid and crazy when I told them that OSA had spies who were pretending to be my friends. Then I saw the documents and found out it was worse than I thought," Headley says.
There are several more pages in the OSA report that go into more detail about how Headley's friends were used to gather information about him. There is back and forth about which ones should attend a birthday party. The comings and goings of the Headleys is described so that their garbage can be collected and sifted without detection. There is also a long list of media telephone numbers and call durations that document which magazines and newspapers Headley was talking to. "My phone records were hacked like every month," he says. Despite all that activity, however, Headley was able to build a strong business even though his friends were spying on him.
Finally, the original document ends with a SMERSH-like touch that we find extremely weird and amusing. The OSA operatives created a diagram, complete with small explosive symbols, to show how they were going to cut off the Headleys from their friends in an emphatic way. Gaze on it and remind yourself, "this is a tax-exempt church":
UPDATE: After we posted this story on Friday about OSA's operation against Marc Headley, we got a call from Frank Oliver, a former OSA operative who we've talked to before about other stories. He wanted to share some documents with us that would go to further characterize how OSA schemes work.
Oliver was in Scientology only from 1986 to 1992, but during that time he went from an OSA volunteer to an actual staff member, and helped oversee numerous spying operations. Later, he was asked to testify in several court cases, and he still has his official OSA and other Scientology documents, which were entered as court exhibits.
The documents in that court record, Oliver says, help explain the mindset of OSA employees who investigate and harass current and former members of Scientology, as well as critics and journalists. Looking through them, including a voluminous checklist that new OSA employees must go through to learn how to investigate people, I couldn't help saying to Oliver that the documents came across as creepy.
He directed me to a statement at the top of document that prefaced what he called a "hat pack" -- a training manual, as it were. It contains this statement of purpose for the Department of Special Affairs (which is under the OSA umbrella):
In case you're having a hard time reading it, that's L. Ron Hubbard's marching orders for OSA: "To help LRH investigate public matters and individuals which seem to impede human liberty so that such matters may be exposed and to furnish intelligence required in guiding the progress of Scientology."
"You want to talk about creepy, that's creepy," Oliver said.
The totalitarian language really kicks in with another document:
And Oliver had other documents that more specifically laid out how investigations were to proceed. One of the most remarkable, dated 1991, involved getting private flight information by lying to Airlines through their "frequent flyer" clubs:
I asked Oliver if this approach actually worked. "It did at the time," he said.
I wrote a story in 2000 about a woman, Tory Bezazian (Christman today), who was mystified that, as she made a bid for freedom from Scientology with a series of flights across the country, there were always OSA operatives waiting for her at the gate, seemingly completely aware of her flight itineraries. She had no idea how they accomplished this. Oliver's document might help explain that.
I asked Oliver if the 2006 OSA documents unearthed about Marc Headley showed that the operation was running any differently than it was when he ran such schemes in the early 1990s.
"I think they've actually gotten worse," he said.
Follow this link to see the entire court pack of Oliver's OSA documents.
Click here to see all recent Scientology coverage at the Voice
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications. Among his other stories about L. Ron Hubbard's organization:
The Larry Wollersheim Saga -- Scientology Finally Pays For Its Fraud
The Tory Bezazian (Christman) Story -- How the Internet Saved A Scientologist From Herself
The Jason Beghe Defection -- A Scientology Celebrity Goes Rogue
The Robert Cipriano Case -- A Hellacious Example of Fair Game
The Paul Haggis Ultimatum -- The 'Crash' Director Tells Scientology to Shove It
The Marc Headley Escape -- 'Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle'
The Aaron Saxton Accusation -- Australia turns up the heat on Scientology
The Jefferson Hawkins Stipulation -- Scientology's former PR genius comes clean
The Daniel Montalvo Double-Cross -- Scientology lures a young defector into a trap
A Church Myth Debunked -- Scientology and Proposition 8
Daniel Montalvo Strikes Back -- Scientology Hit with Stunning Child-Labor Lawsuits
When Scientologists Attack -- The Marty Rathbun Intimidation
A Scientologist Excommunicated -- The Michael Fairman SP Declaration
The Richard Leiby Operation -- Investigating a reporter's divorce to shut him up
The Hugh Urban Investigation -- An academic takes a harsh look at Scientology's past
Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh -- A precedent for a Scientology-Branch Davidian link
Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology -- A masterful telling of Scientology's history
The Western Spy Network Revealed? -- Marty Rathbun ups the ante on David Miscavige
Scientology's Enemies List -- Are You On It?
Inside Inside Scientology -- An interview with author Janet Reitman
Scientology and the Nation of Islam -- Holy Doctrinal Mashup, Batman!
Scientologists -- How Many of Them Are There, Anyway?
Roger Weller's Wild Ride -- Scientology When it was Hip